Foss: Sports are a luxury in a pandemic

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Categories: Editorial, Opinion

With everything going on, I didn’t realize quite how much I missed sports.

The NBA, which I follow pretty closely, disappeared one evening in March while I was putting my son to bed. Now that it’s back, I’m tuning into games again. I don’t even much care who wins – I’m just happy to watch some hoops.

The return of sports — basketball, baseball and hockey — has been a treat, albeit a precarious one.

There have been frequent reminders of why sports remains a risky proposition.

Count me among those who doubt that Major League Baseball, which has already seen more than a dozen schedule postponements or shifts because of COVID-19 outbreaks, will complete its shortened season.

And while the NBA and NHL have fared better, consider the lengths to which they’ve gone: Both leagues have kept their teams isolated in bubbles, sealed off, for the most part, from the outside world.

It’s a strategy that’s working, but at tremendous cost – one that even the wealthiest colleges and universities would struggle to bear. Among other things, creating a special bubble for college athletes would shatter the illusion that high-powered college football players are amateurs – students first and athletes second.

Local colleges and universities have already canceled their fall sports seasons, and now it appears big-time sports conferences such as the Big Ten are also poised to scrap the fall 2020 season.

If this comes as a surprise, it’s probably because the unbridled devotion of college football fans would seem to render such a thing unthinkable.

But if the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the unthinkable can become thinkable overnight.

With college reopening plans yet to be tested, moving ahead with college football seems premature and impractical at best, and dangerous at worst. Hundreds of positive tests among college players have already been reported, and some athletes have reported serious complications.

 Sports might feel essential, but they are actually a luxury – “the reward of a functioning society,” as Sean Doolittle, a reliever for the Washington Nationals put it.

Much like a strong economy and fully-reopened schools, a robust sports schedule won’t be possible until the pandemic is under control.

Do that, and college athletes can return to the field.

A SECOND OPINION ABOUT JEFFREY IMMELT

I received an email from Gary Sheffer, former head of communications for GE, in response to

my column last week about the new book “Lights Out: Pride, Delusion and the Fall of General Electric.”

Sheffer defended former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, and I thought his response might be of some interest.

 “As you might expect, I object to many assertions made by the book’s authors, including the theme you seized on: Immelt was unwilling to listen to differing opinions or bad news. Having been there, I can tell you this is nonsense,” wrote Sheffer, who still does some consulting work for Immelt. “There are many examples where Jeff cancelled deals and changed strategies based on feedback from GE colleagues. Former GE executives provided examples to the authors. These on-the-record interviews did not make the book. They include former GE vice chair John Rice and former GE general counsel Alex Dimitrief. I note that the sources that are critical of Immelt are anonymous.

“I would also note that Immelt successfully managed a series of ‘bad news’ events — 9/11, two recessions, the global financial crisis — that upset GE’s strategies. It defies logic to suggest that he would not listen to bad news and was unwilling to change course when necessary.

“Clearly, some decisions didn’t work out the way we wanted. But this inaccurate and unfair retrospective doesn’t provide helpful insight into what really happened at GE.”

My take on “Lights Out” is that it’s thorough and well-reported.

In a note on sourcing, the authors, Thomas Gryta and Ted Mann, write that “Lights Out” is the result of six years of reporting on GE, and “hundreds of interviews with scores of people involved with the company – executives, members of the board of directors, bankers, lawyers, consultants, investors and employees.” The men also told the Gazette’s John Cropley that they’re checking claims of factual inaccuracies, but haven’t found any.

GE’s significance all but guarantees that more books will be written exploring the company’s rise and fall.

For those who are interested, “Lights Out” is a must-read, as I wrote last week, but unlikely to be the last word. GE’s history is far from over. In fact, it’s still very much being written.

Reach Sara Foss at [email protected] Opinions expressed here are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s.

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